Report: Data from 10 online services in 156 countries reveals significant price discrimination

Jan Youngren
Jan Youngren | Security researcher
Last updated: December 1, 2020
Prices of 10 online services in 156 countries compared

We gathered the prices of 10 online entertainment platforms in 156 countries and analyzed the data. The result is the most comprehensive public database on price discrimination in digital entertainment.

Did you know that Netflix costs $7.26 in Japan and $9.05 in Bolivia, despite the latter having a much smaller library and being a far less wealthy country? Or that on average, Steam games cost 3 times more in Japan than they do in Argentina?

With online content platforms taking the world by storm, VPNpro has decided to look at the prices of various entertainment services around the world to pinpoint the cheapest and most expensive countries, and to check how these prices correspond with living standards from country to country.

The spread of online entertainment has been uneven, with products and services available only in some countries and at wildly varying prices. Yet unlike the prices of physical goods, digital ones are not influenced by factors like transportation, storage, distribution costs, manufacturing costs, tariffs, and other things. All of this makes the reasons these price differences exist all the more puzzling for casual users.

The article includes our findings as well as the raw data, which you can investigate to draw your own conclusions.

Key findings

  • Brazil, Argentina, and India are the cheapest countries. Brazil is among the cheapest for 9 of 10 services (8 of 10 for Argentina and 7 of 8 for India which doesn’t have Twitch and Nintendo).
  • Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, and Austria are the priciest countries. Switzerland, Germany, and Austria appear among the priciest for 10 of 10 services.
  • Amazon services (Amazon Prime Video and Twitch Prime) have less than half the number of price tiers (15 and 14 respectively) of any other video or music streaming service we have data on – Netflix (34), YouTube Premium (43), Apple Music (48), Spotify (31).
  • South American countries (particularly Brazil and Argentina) have the lowest computer game prices. Compared to the average:
      • Nintendo games are 27% cheaper in Brazil
      • PlayStation games are 42% cheaper in Brazil
      • Steam games are 49% cheaper in Argentina
      • Xbox games are 62% cheaper in Argentina
  • In countries with smaller markets, payments are often made in US dollars (Africa, Latin America, Asia, CIS countries), which usually means they are worse off.
  • There is a noticeable trend of service providers keeping uniform numerical price values regardless of currency. E.g. services may charge the same amount in GBP as they would in USD. This means that some countries may end up paying more (UK) or less (Canada) due to conversion costs.
  • Although online services tend to be cheaper in lower GDP per capita states, they are often more expensive when taking price as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP). For example:
      • Despite costing the same, Netflix is 50 times more expensive in Zimbabwe (0.2876% of GDP per capita) than in Qatar (0.0058% of GDP per capita)
      • Spotify is slightly cheaper in Nicaragua ($5.99) than in Singapore ($7.11), but is in fact 17 times more expensive (0.1131% of GDP per capita vs 0.0067%)
      • Nintendo games are the cheapest in Brazil ($49.12 average over 3 top titles), but they are the 4th most expensive as a percentage of GDP per capita (4.5 times more expensive than in Luxembourg).
      • On average, PlayStation games are among the most expensive in Luxembourg (in a flat dollar comparison), but their digital store is actually one of the cheapest – 3 times cheaper than the most expensive PS country in flat dollars, Israel.
      • Ireland and Greece have identical Xbox game prices but for Greek buyers, they are 3 times higher as a percentage of GDP per capita. This means greater economic strain for Greek customers.
      • The United States, when adjusting for living standards, are in general a fairly cheap country for online services. The country is consistently near the lower end of the average.

About this research

We selected some of the top international service providers in three separate categories: video streaming (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch Prime, YouTube Premium), music streaming (Spotify, Apple Music), and digital video game stores (Steam, Nintendo Game Store, Xbox Game Store, PlayStation Store) and looked at their prices in various countries around the world.

The price data was gathered by visiting each service provider’s web page and writing down the price. In some cases, adding a country code to URL links sufficed, while in others we used a VPN to get the local prices. Web crawlers also helped us gather the data faster: SaveCoins, Spotify Pricing Index, Steam Database.

Currency conversion

We converted the currencies on June 5th, 2020, using FloatRates USD data feed.

Living standard metric: GDP (PPP) per capita

Rather than just look at flat dollar rates, we wanted to get a sense of how prices feel to residents of various countries. To do so, we introduced an accepted living standard metric – GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (GDP (PPP) per capita).

The primary reason for choosing GDP (PPP) per capita, rather than the slightly more representative GNI (PPP) per capita is that more recent data is available for the former (2020 IMF data). The two measurements generally don’t differ by much and GDP (PPP) per capita is sufficient for our purposes.

Finding the 10 cheapest/priciest countries

To determine the top 10 cheapest and priciest countries we:

  1. Made a list of 10 cheapest and 10 priciest countries for each service.
  2. We assigned a score to each position on the list #1-10, with the cheapest country getting 10 points, the second-cheapest getting 9 points, the tenth-cheapest getting 1 point, etc. (repeating the same procedure for the most expensive countries).
  3. We added up the scores and listed the countries from cheapest to priciest and vice versa.

Note that only countries where 7 (or more) of the 10 chosen services are available were added to the list.

Let the data tell the story

We gathered a lot of data for this research – too much for us to tell all the stories it contains. So we decided to let our readers interact with the data themselves. The Video streaming, Music streaming, and Gaming portions of the research each have interactive maps and graphs you can investigate by choosing the different services from a drop-down on the top right corner.

By hovering over countries on the map or bars/columns on the graphs you can have a look at the related data – service prices, GDP (PPP) per capita, and prices as percentages of GDP (PPP) per capita.

At the end of the article you will find a sortable table containing all of the data we have collected.

top cheapest countries
Top cheapest countries: 1 – Brazil, 2 – Argentina, 3 – India, 4 – Turkey, 5 – South Africa
top priciest countries
Top priciest countries: 1 – Switzerland, 2 – Denmark, 3 – Germany and Austria, 4 – France and Ireland, 5 – Finland

Video streaming

We chose 4 video streaming services: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Twitch Prime, YouTube Premium. These are some of the most popular platforms globally and they are also:

    • Available in a great number of countries
    • Priced differently from country to country

    • South America is the cheapest continent to get Netflix, that is, if you’re living in Brazil or Colombia. People living in Costa Rica and Uruguay pay the same amount as those living in the United States
    • Amazon services (Amazon Prime Video and Twitch Prime) are the most expensive in the US
    • All of the other chosen services (Netflix, YouTube Premium) are the most expensive in Switzerland or Denmark
    • Amazon Prime Video is 660% more expensive in the US than in India
  • Netflix is 88% more expensive in Switzerland than in India
  • When looking at prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP):
    • Netflix is 50 times more expensive in Zimbabwe (0.2876% of GDP per capita) than in Qatar (0.0058% of GDP per capita)
    • Amazon Prime is 33 times more expensive in Micronesia (0.1638% of GDP per capita) than in Liechtenstein (0.0049% of GDP per capita)
    • Twitch Prime is 109 times more expensive in Uganda (0.2176% of GDP per capita) than in Singapore (0.002% of GDP per capita)

We picked Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch Prime, and YouTube Premium as the leading streaming platforms for our research. Others didn’t make the cut as they are exclusive to the US (such as Hulu) or offer a flat rate regardless of country (such as Crunchyroll).

The apparent winners, when it comes to flat dollar amounts, are large countries with lower GDP per capita (PPP) numbers compared to EU countries, the US, Singapore, Japan, and other more economically-developed states. Notably, this includes India, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Russia, and the Philippines. Some exceptions to this trend are countries like Australia and Japan, which consistently appear among the cheapest countries.

Less lucky are smaller, less-wealthy economies – particularly those with weak currencies. For example, countries like Lebanon, Zambia, Venezuela, and Uruguay typically pay in dollars so service providers can avoid currency fluctuations. This protects businesses from losing profits, but it also means conversion costs: Zimbabwe pays 7.99 USD for the Netflix Basic plan, while Japan, after applied conversion rates, pays only 7.32 USD.

The situation is different when we look at prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP), where the greatest winners are typically small countries with a high standard of living, such as Qatar, Singapore, Luxembourg, Ireland, and even countries like Switzerland and Denmark, which consistently appear among the priciest countries.

To illustrate the difference, here’s an extreme example:

As mentioned, users in Zimbabwe pay $7.99/month for Netflix – the same as people in Qatar. However, when we compare these prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP), we can see that Netflix is 50 times more expensive in Zimbabwe (0.2876% of GDP per capita) than in Qatar (0.0058% of GDP per capita).

Music streaming

To get a better look at music streaming, we chose Spotify and Apple Music – two widely-available services with differing prices from country to country.

  • Both Spotify and Apple Music are the most expensive in Denmark (with Switzerland in 2nd place)
  • Both Spotify and Apple Music are the cheapest in India. However, Indian Apple Music users pay less than Indian Spotify users
  • The gap between Apple Music monthly price in China and Hong Kong is around 6 USD
  • Cheapest European Union country to get Spotify Premium is Hungary. It will cost you twice as much to get it in France.
  • When looking at prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP):
    • Apple Music is 74 times more expensive in Niger (0.2596% of GDP per capita) than in Qatar (0.0035% of GDP per capita)
    • Spotify is 17 times more expensive in Nicaragua (0.1131% of GDP per capita) than in Singapore (0.0067% of GDP per capita)

Right off the bat, we see more incentive on the provider’s part to make the services more accessible. That is to say, there is a lot more variation in price between wealthier and less-wealthy countries. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you can get Spotify and Apple Music even cheaper if you’re a student. Still, to make the measurement more even-sided, we picked the most affordable individual monthly plan option.

Ultimately, the cheapest place to get a music streaming service is India. This is true for both Spotify (1.58 USD) and Apple Music (1.31 USD). Other honorable mentions are the Philippines, Turkey, and Colombia, which are the cheapest countries to buy these services per flat dollar amount after currency conversion rates.

Meanwhile, the most expensive countries for these services are overwhelmingly Denmark and Switzerland. For example, Apple Music is 1045% more expensive in Denmark than India, whereas Spotify is 850% more expensive.

Some regions are priced in broad strokes, therefore, the prices of Spotify and Apple Music are less flexible. As a result, Singapore pays less for Spotify than Greece, and Qatar pays less for Apple Music than the Dominican Republic. Often, the service providers keep the same numerical values for prices regardless of the exchange rate. For example, 9.99 Canadian dollars converts to a lower amount than 9.99 EUR, even though the number is the same.

If we compare prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP), again, the winners and losers are very different. For example, although Apple Music costs $2.99 in Niger and $4.93 in Qatar, the service is actually 74 times more expensive in Niger (0.2596% of GDP per capita) than in Qatar (0.0035% of GDP per capita).

Gaming

We looked at the prices on the most popular PC gaming marketplace – Steam – and the main console marketplaces: Nintendo Game Store, PlayStation Store, and Xbox Games Store.

To offset differences in individual game prices, we took 3 big game titles for each store and calculated an average price. Here are the games we chose:

  • Steam – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), Doom Eternal
  • Nintendo – Animal Crossing: New Horizons, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey
  • PlayStation – God Of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Game of the Year Edition, Bloodborne
  • Xbox – Red Dead Redemption 2, Forza Horizon 4, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

 

  • Brazil is the cheapest country to buy games on Nintendo and PlayStation, and among the cheapest to buy games on Steam and Xbox
  • The price differences between the cheapest and most expensive countries are significant. E.g. our Nintendo game package is $36.01 cheaper in Brazil ($49.12) than Switzerland ($85.13)
  • Games are the priciest in all the usual places – Switzerland, Denmark, and other EU countries. Perhaps the biggest outlier in the gaming category is Israel – generally among the cheaper-to-average countries for video and music streaming subscriptions, but the most expensive PlayStation country, and among the most expensive on Nintendo, Steam, and Xbox
  • Games in the US are a bit cheaper than average. E.g. Nintendo games are 40% more expensive in Switzerland when compared to the US
  • PC games are generally more affordable than console games.
  • Xbox is the most cost-effective console. This is both due to having more pricing tiers than Nintendo or Sony (and thus lower prices on average), and due to the “Play Anywhere” feature, which allows users to enjoy a once-purchased title on another platform (PC).
  • When looking at prices as a percentage of GDP per capita (PPP):
    • Nintendo games are 7 times more expensive in Colombia than in Luxembourg
    • PlayStation games are 10 times more expensive in India than in Luxembourg
    • Steam games are 22 times more expensive in Cambodia than in Qatar
    • Xbox games are 11 times more expensive in India than in Singapore

When we look at game prices, we need to be very cautious about making sweeping statements. Prices are set by publishers, which makes it difficult to calculate averages. For example, on Steam, Doom Eternal and GTA V are the most expensive in Japan, yet PUBG is more expensive elsewhere.

There are also differences over the lifetime of any given game, for example, prices tend to drop unevenly from region to region and country to country. E.g., If we look only at the flat dollar amount, CIS countries have some of the lowest prices. In those countries, even new releases can be half the price of US games. However, this means that as time passes, prices don’t get discounted as much as they would in the US and other more expensive countries.

With that said, taking 3 big titles and calculating an average price allows us to draw some conclusions. Firstly, Argentina and Brazil are the cheapest countries for computer games – these countries are among the cheapest on all 4 platforms. Other notable mentions include Russia, China, Uruguay, Chile, Turkey, and some others.

Secondly, among the most expensive we find some expected names – most notably Switzerland and EU countries. However, we also find otherwise cheaper countries on the pricey end, like Israel and Japan.

Thirdly, countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan (or, more to the point, Brazil, Argentina, etc.) might seem like cheap places to buy games, but considering their cost as a percentage of GDP per capita, it raises doubts how affordable the games are for people actually living there. Perhaps this explains why Russia, a country with half the population of the US, had almost the same number of visits to piracy websites in 2018.

Lastly, PC gaming (Steam) seems generally more budget-friendly and available to a wider market than console gaming. By comparison, Nintendo and Sony prices are outrageously high. Even in “cheap” countries like Brazil and Chile, they don’t seem low enough for people living there to call them affordable.

The outlier, in this case, is Xbox, where games are cheaper, and which offers Xbox Play Anywhere. This works by allowing you to buy your game on the console and play it on PC.

Why do digital service prices vary between countries?

Offering different prices for the same service is known as price discrimination. Service providers employ this tactic to maximize profits – the goal is to charge every customer as much as he is likely to pay.

When it comes to digital services, companies typically charge different prices on a national or regional basis. Decisions regarding how much to charge in one country or another are chiefly led by market research and can depend on a multitude of factors, including average income, demographics, differences in propensity to spend on entertainment, or the popularity of a particular product.

However, there can be other considerations as well. For example, Amazon Prime in the US ($12.99) is a very different product from Amazon Prime in India ($1.71) and therefore, the price difference has a legitimate reason. Sometimes, there are legal realities influencing digital service prices – for example, geo-blocking – a method by which price discrimination is enacted –  is illegal within the EU (although services peddling in copyrighted materials, like Netflix, are still exempt from this ban). Additionally, tax differences are often an important reason why prices differ from country to country.

Whatever the reason for using price discrimination, the real data we have gathered for this research shows that this practice rarely comes close to offsetting real differences in living standards.

Appendix

You can view and export all the data here.

 

Disclaimer:

We meticulously research our stories and endeavor to present an accurate picture for our readers.  We’re also human, and if you believe we have made a factual error (as opposed to disagreeing with an opinion), please contact us so that we may investigate and either correct or confirm the facts. Please reach out to us by using our Contact Us page.

 

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